Robert McCall, NASA Artist (1919-2010)

McCall's mural at NASA Langley Research center.

Space artist Robert McCall died February 26 of a heart attack in Scottsdale. He was 90.

An appreciation posted by the National Space Society (where McCall served on the Board of Governors) recalls numerous examples of his iconic artwork:

One can see the influence Robert McCall had by going to the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum, where his vast mural depicting man’s conquest of the Moon covers an entire wall on the Museum’s main floor, as well as in old movie posters for 2001: A Space Odyssey, and in a two-decade-long series of postage stamps depicting space themes.

Charmingly, Harlan

Letters of Note has posted Harlan Ellison’s 1992 missive to Connie Willis’ publisher with his endorsement of Doomsday Book.

Considering the text, a scan of the actual letterhead and signature is almost unnecessary. Who besides Harlan would use an obscenity-laced death threat to deliver a complimentary plug about a novel?

But seeing the copy brings back my own memories of Harlan’s stationery and the letter I got from him when I was a young fan — gray paper, gold stamped name. However, his letter to me contained neither obscenities nor threats of mayhem. Harlan is nothing if not versatile.

[Thanks to David Klaus for the link.]

Classics at Lunacon 2010

The Lunacon 2010 program features several discussions organized by John Hertz, each devoted to one of the “Classics of Science Fiction”. Three of John’s selections are:

Isaac Asimov
I, Robot (1950)
Framed in Dr. Suan Calvin’s reminiscences is this set of stories first published over the years 1940-1950. The author originally wanted to call the book Mind and Iron; what would that have told us? How are the stories as character studies? Narrative? What’s missing from the final episode?

R.A. Lafferty
Past Master (1968)
Thomas More is brought five centuries across time and space, maybe to help — as defined by whom? Lafferty was one of our original authors. This, his first novel, is poetic, satirical, and strange. You can guess which of those I think most lasting; what do you think? A book note by me is at

E.E. Smith
Skylark Three (1948)
Here is the second and my favorite of the Skylark Series, which begins with The Skylark of Space (1946). Space and Three were each published in earlier forms. Discovery and invention fuel the story, which is driven by people, some of whom are aliens. Excitement, adventure, you bet, and it’s remarkable how much is timeless.

Clark’s Other Identity

“Who Is Clark Rockefeller” will air March 13 on Lifetime.

Eric McCormack of Will & Grace fame will play Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, who masqueraded as a Rockefeller scion, is serving time in prison for kidnapping his daughter, and remains a “person of interest” in the 1985 disappearance of two LASFS members John and Linda Sohus.

The trailer includes the briefest flash of human bones lying in the ground, the only specific hint I found in any of the promotional material that the Sohus disappearance is part of the story.


It’s not an sf-related story, admits Steven Silver in his e-mail. But he knew I’d like it and that would be enough reason to post it here — we fans always find a way to appropriate the stories we like.  

Luis Soriano is a Colombian teacher who loads his burros Alfa and Beto full of books twice a week and rides for hours to reach obscure villages in rural Colombia to encourage kids to read.

At the start of his 17-year teaching career, Soriano realized that some students were having difficulty not just learning, but finishing their homework assignments. Most of the students falling behind lived in rural villages, where illiterate parents and lack of access to books prevented them from completing their studies.

To help bridge the learning gap, Soriano decided to personally bring books to the children.

“I saw two unemployed donkeys at home and had the idea [to use] them in my biblioburro project because they can carry a heavy load,” Soriano said. “I put the books on their backs in saddles and they became my work tools.”

[Thanks to Steven H. Silver for the story.]

A Fortnight Left to Vote on FAAns

Corflu Cobalt is not far away and the committee is reminding everyone that Saturday, March 12 is the deadline to vote in the Fanzine Activity Achievement (FAAn) Awards.

You do not need a membership in Corflu Cobalt to vote. Anyone with the necessary knowledge of the people and their work is eligible.

Use the 2010 FAAn Awards ballot or send an e-mail. Corflu chair Rob Jackson says, “Anyone who feels suitably qualified to vote can e-mail their votes, just as a list and not necessarily on the ballot form itself, to Mike Meara, FAAn Awards Administrator, at: cobaltfaan@corflu,org .

[Thanks to Rob Jackson for the story.]

Anticipation Pass-Along Increased

Congratulations to Anticipation, the 2009 Worldcon in Montreal, for increasing the amount of surplus funds it is passing on to future Worldcons.

The first checks were delivered at Smofcon to Aussiecon 4 and Renovation, with an equal amount reserved for the next Worldcon to adopt the pass-along policy (maybe the winning 2012 bid.)

Earlier this month René Walling, who co-chaired with Robbie Bourget, announced the amount each of the three Worldcons is receiving has been raised to US$22,500 in total.

Simply multiply by three and it works out that Anticipation’s surplus was at least $67,500, which is remarkable coming from one of the smaller Worldcons.

The pass-along policy is a commitment to distribute at least one-half of a Worldcon’s surplus to the next three Worldcons that make the same promise.  A con may pass on much more than 50% if it chooses, of course. In any event questions about the size of Anticipation’s surplus will be answered by its financial report to the Aussiecon 4 business meeting (or earlier, if Robbie and René decide.)

The Dorms of Middle Earth

Someone who picks the right university can have a fantastic life in more than one sense of the word.

For example, after a student at UC Irvine meets with Professor Gregory Benford she may amble home to her dorm in Middle Earth:

Middle Earth houses approximately 1,690 students in 24 residence halls. The names of the halls and other facilities were selected from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The halls are divided into six clusters or theme areas of four halls and offer classes associated with their names.

Middle Earth was built in three phases:

  • Phase I opened in 1974 with seven (7) halls: Hobbiton, Isengard, Lorien, Mirkwood, Misty Mountain, Rivendell, and The Shire. Brandywine Commons, and Brandywine Student Center (BSC) are also in Middle Earth.
  • Phase II opened in 1989-90 and it includes 13 halls: Balin, Harrowdale, Whispering Wood, Woodhall, Calmindon, Grey Havens, Aldor, Rohan, Gondolin, Snowbourn, Elrond, Shadowfax, and Quenya. Phase II also includes Pippin Dining Commons, the housing office, and Bucklebury Library. 
  • Phase III opened in Fall 2000 and includes four (4) halls: Crickhollow, Evenstar, Oakenshield, and Valimar. Arkenstone, a 24-hour academic resource and study center, officially opened in fall of 2007.

And a student at Azusa Pacific University enrolled in one of Dr. Diana Glyer’s classes may leave a talk about the Inklings to return to his mod in the Shire. My own nephew Adam lived with his roommates in one of those modular apartments for a term.

While I find the naming convention quite entertaining, even names out of Tolkien’s legendarium once officially attached to university housing are prone to lose some of their magic. That’s why Azusa Pacific student Mychal Clements, Online Editor of The Clause, recently challenged people to make more playful use of the Shire’s connection with Tolkien.

In my three years at Azusa Pacific I have not heard one single joke about the Shire. I am astounded and shocked that this is the case, hey readers. It’s called the Shire. The Shire, where Hobbits come from.

Am I saying that there needs to be an overkill of references and jokes? No. But maybe the occasional comment, joke or event would make me happy. However you should not do it just to make me happy, but instead because the nomenclature of the Shire demands it.

I’m sure that if the ghost of Mr. Tolkien were to walk Azusa Pacific’s campus he would be disappointed and depressed at the lack of recognition for the Shire.

Shire residents, please make more references, or put up the occasional poster. Don’t do it for me, don’t do it for yourself, but rather do it for the possible ghost of J.R.R. Tolkien.

[Via Andrew Porter and Michael J. Lowery.]